“What’s needed are eyes that focus with the soul.Richard Wagamese, Embers, 2016
What’s needed are spirits open to everything.
What’s needed are the belief that wonder is the glue of the universe and the desire to seek more of it.
Be filled with wonder!”
Wonder companioned me throughout my five weeks in Portugal and Spain. Wonder guided my visit to Porto – what the locals prefer calling their city – the second largest in Portugal, with its historic centre, including its cathedral, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (I can’t believe we never made it up to the cathedral, the heat being a factor, and too, that Portugal Green Walks would be providing our Camino credentials during our orientation the eve before setting out. In hindsight, one of travel’s “shoulda woulda coulda” misses.)
We arrived via a three hour train trip from Lisbon early Saturday afternoon, time enough to settle into the Hotel Porto Trinidade and make our way to Rua Santa Catarina to meet up with a Taste Porto food tour, one I’d learned about from Monday Night Travels with Rick Steves. Iconic azulejos – those blue glazed ceramic tiles – of the Ingreja do Carmo shone brilliant against an azure sky and marked our rendezvous spot.
Travelling solo, I often book a food tour when I land to learn about the city’s food and culture from a local perspective, become oriented, discover places to eat during my stay, and get my first meal. This four-hour, small group “walk, talk and taste,” expertly hosted by Miguel, whose joie de vivre for his adopted city and its local foods and wines, did not disappoint. From sampling one of Portugal’s most popular culinary exports – canned fish – with its signature tinto verde; to munching on savory Chaves pastries filled with ground seasoned veal; to the marinated slow-cooked pulled pork and smoked ham double layered “sandes terylene” sandwich accompanied by a red sparkling wine; sipping espresso with a square of fine dark chocolate at the art deco Cafe Guarany; and ending the feast with shredded cod fritters and “naughty” rice, we left sated with stories, fine local food and wine, and a glimpse into Porto’s rich architectural history and beauty.
Sunday shone sunny and fresh, with the morning cool a deception for what would become a 30+ C day. Ambling towards the Douro River, we encountered a line of people waiting patiently outside building.
“Sunday brunch?” I wondered. Approaching, I realized this was the famous bookstore that inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwart’s library in the Harry Potter series. Once free to the public, now the thousands that descend daily to visit are charged 5 Euro per person for the privilege, reimbursed with a minimum purchase.
Passing more colourful tiles and street art, now early afternoon, it proved prescient to have pre-booked tickets to sit outside on the upper deck of a boat for an hour’s sailing up and down the Douro to see Porto’s six bridges. The Puente Maria Pia, attributed to Gustav Eiffel, is one of several bridges built in Portugal by Eiffel. We’d walk across another in an early stage of the Camino.
I’d learned about the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum from my co-editor, Karen, who with her husband and a group of fourteen others earlier in the spring had walked the Portuguese Central Camino from Lisbon. Featuring an expanse of park with outdoor metal installations by Ai WeiWei, and a Joan Miro exhibition in the Art Deco building, meandering inside and outside the foundation’s buildings and grounds, with a delicious buffet lunch on the roof top terrace, was a perfect transition from the heat and crush of the “peopley” urban centres and sights of Lisbon and Porto. The following day, a week after having arrived in Portugal, we’d be delivered to the beach and boardwalk to begin stage one of nineteen of the Coastal Camino, where once again, wonder would be my guide and companion.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.